Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson today pressed the Fish and Wildlife Service Director on efforts to preserve sage grouse and the need for ranchers to receive compensation for livestock lost to wolves. Simpson chairs the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the Service.
Noting that the Service must make a decision about whether or not to list sage grouse as an endangered species by the end of FY2015, Simpson asked Director Dan Ashe what efforts are in place to prevent that listing. He also pointed out the value of the state management plan that Idaho has been working hard to develop in order to protect the bird and, hopefully, prevent a listing. Director Ashe said that the Fish and Wildlife Service concurs that Idaho's state management plan and a well managed range are good for sage grouse; he added that the parties involved are seeing "good momentum." He said "we've got a lot of work to do, but everyone is talking to one another."
"Do you agree that wildfire is the greatest threat to sage grouse?" Simpson asked. Director Ashe said that while habitat degradation has traditionally been the largest threat to sage grouse, wildfire may be the most significant factor now. Simpson noted with concern that the recently-passed Senate continuing resolution fail to adequately address wildfire. The Senate CR struck $97 million that was included by the House for wildfire suppression to address widely expected shortfalls in 2013.
Simpson expressed frustration that funding intended to compensate livestock owners for the loss of livestock killed by wolves is not getting on the ground. He noted that the wolf livestock loss demonstration program was specifically authorized by Congress, yet the Service has still not spent the funds appropriated for the program in FY12. After the hearing, Simpson said he would continue to press the Service to see that those who have suffered losses because of wolves are adequately compensated.
Simpson also discussed the Service's backlog maintenance, and the impact that sequestration cuts are having on the Service's work during the hearing. "I don't see us getting out of the hole we're in any time soon if we don't address this debt crisis that we're in we can't keep managing from crisis to crisis and expect to continue to offering the same level of services that we always have."